Part two of the course begins with the study of mise-en-scéne, that is ‘putting in the scene’ “it refers to the placement of objects and the arrangements of space within a frame’ This course gets even better as not many years ago I was really interested in becoming an art director as seeing how sets on TV and in movies were created was fascinating to me. I love how you could learn so much about the character, situation or place just by the belongings and objects in the room.
And it doesn’t only show character but also creates mood and atmosphere, it’s essentially like a little resume of each scene letting the viewer know what mood it is or what could be about to happen. A dark night which the slant of light from a lamppost and heavy rain could signify something dark and moody is about to happen, whereas a garden packed with flowers and an afternoon tea laid out on a decorating table cloth generates feelings of happiness and serenity. Unless of course the producer takes advantage of the feel of the movie and creates a calm moment just when something unexpected is about to happen at the afternoon tea and it’s even more of a shock to the viewer shattering a peaceful mood.
Colour is also important to generate mood. When I first started the photography degree I wrote an analysis of colour psychology for the Art of Photography and this feels very apt for
“Space is as powerful as the objects within it. An object surrounded by space will stand out more. Space may suggest the absence or imminent arrival of something.
Things to bear in mind when studying mise-en-scéne are
Framing – Camera angle – Colours – Lighting – mise-en-scéne – Sound- Movement
Choose some films to watch paying special attention to the mise-en-scéne.
Vera – mise-en-scene
There aren’t many murder programmes I can watch but Vera is one of them. I love watching this because of the characters, the story, the mystery and the cinematography. The light always emphasises the mood, homes reflect character and you get a very gritty feel of the Northumberland but one with charm and appeal.
We were watching ‘On Harbour Street’ in which a woman had been killed on a train and the DC’s (Joe Astworth’s) young daughter had found her dead. Consequentially his daughter was traumatised and suffered from nightmares throughout the episode. This scene when Joe comes back home from a day of work felt especially emotive and the lighting and mise-en-scéne had a strong narrative and evocative mood.
The scene in the corridor feels cold and bare when Joe gets back. It feels reflective of his mood, his concern for his daughter, the stress of his job. The cold blue’s and whites reinforce this, stark colours that offer no hope or companion. His clothing is dark, almost like a silhouette. Joe hovers by the door in the darkness as the warm light from the lounge bleeds onto his face warming up the scene and creating a more positive and cosy atmosphere dissipating the dark thoughts he’s struggling with. This is reinforced with the family smiling at him from the cosy couch.
In the lounge there are candles blurred to bokeh on the mantelpiece with family photos on the walls. The family sit together side by side on the couch. Joe and his wife smile at each other and then he wraps an arm around his daughter who smiles at him. The TV light flickers on their faces, reminiscent of comforting times spent in front of a fire watching TV or reading a book.
The meaning is rife in this scene, they are creating a cosy atmosphere of family protection and warmth setting the scene later for when their daughter wakes up again screaming with nightmares. It is also showing a contrast of the two characters lives, Joe at home with his family and poor DCI Vera at home on the Northumberland in a dark smoky house with not much light, a tough exterior saying she doesn’t care but trapped by loneliness and her disturbed childhood on the inside.
House of Anubis – mise-en-scéne
Eddie Miller is a boarder in Anubis House in House of Anubis. He has powers of prophecy and an uncanny knack of getting into trouble. I chose this scene because it’s very dramatic, the lighting conveys a lot and it’s only a few frames but it still makes you jump every time.
It starts with Eddie asleep in bed waking up thirsty. His drink is empty and he goes to the door. He reaches for the handle and a premonition hits him. In the vision he is lying underneath the bed and the camera closes in on his terrified face. With the frame still on his face, a pair of pointed shoes come into view. He is terrified and tries to back away. Still on a low level the shoes spin on the spot and point themselves at Eddie. Eddie squirms backwards trying to escape but he’s trapped. Suddenly Frobisher (the possessed Great Grandfather) stares under the bed directly at them (in time to some dramatic music) His hand lunges out at Eddie who screams!
The scene feels tense and packed with foreboding. The lighting is tungsten and the blue captures a feeling of tense movies. The quick scenes heighten the drama and makes the action intense. The shots close to the floor put us on the eye level of the main character and we feel his fear. Even his blue pyjamas match the lighting. The lighting replicates the feeling of a nightmare.
The cinematographer wants the viewer to feel nervous, scared about what is happening. Eddie’s prophecies are true so it means Frobisher is alive. Everything works together to create a dramatic and tense scene. When Eddie snaps back to reality he drops the glass he is holding, which shatters on the floor waking Fabian, his room mate. The next day at breakfast the colours are all bright and bold, breakfast is laid out on the table and the sun pouring through the windows lights everyone’s face. The mood is light and teasing with the sub plots a contrast of what had just gone on.
I also like the contrast of ways in which they show Anubis House –
A low angle reinforces drama and foreboding making the house seem oppressive and fearful. Dark blue lighting is evocative as is the light shining from the windows.
In contrast, a calm daylight shot. A fairly straight on shot with blue skies and calm lighting reminiscent of a sunny day.
Choose a particularly interesting scenes and watch it a number of times. Identify each individual shot. Extract some skills. Ask the same question of each frame.
- How does the frame feel?
- How has this been achieved?
- Has the mise-en-scéne played a part in this?
- Is there any meaning conveyed by the mise-en-scéne?
My sister was overjoyed to discover I was going to analyse a frame from StarWars. Having only just watched the movies last year she has gone from someone who wouldn’t even watch them to someone who has watched The Revenge of the Sith four times this year! Which is quite a lot of dedication. Needless to say she’s read up on all the theories and hidden meanings of the movies and was able to give me many fascinating insights.
I chose the scene where Anakin Skywalker pledges himself to the evil Darth Sidious (the Chancellor), a Sith lord, in the hope of cheating death so he can save his beloved Padame from dying in childbirth as he has foreseen. It’s a tense and powerful scene, amped up by the dramatic music and dark mood. There are meanings littered throughout in the lighting, the camera angles and the sound. I watched the following video on YouTube and screen shot every individual shot.
One – The scene starts, a mid shot of Anakin horrified at the act he’s just performed (he has just enabled the Chancellor to kill Mace Windu ‘What have I done?” The mood is dark, the ominous thunder rumbling in the background with part of his head encased in darkness. The only light is on his face perhaps showing the light dwindling inside him. The whole movie is filmed in a way that it starts in the day but by the end of the movie night has closed in making the mood even more foreboding and showing how the dark side is taking hold.
Two – the scene changes to a wide angle shot showing Anakin backing away and collapsing onto a chair consumed with guilt. He is framed against the window but as he sits down Darth Sidious stands. A reversal of dominance showing how Anakin is the subordinate and Darth Sidious is the dominant figure.
Three – A high angle shot shows us Anakin staring up at the Chancellor who’s head partly fills the frame, this shows the power Count Sidious holds over him.
Four – The scene changes so this time Anakin’s head partly fills the frame and a low angle shot allows the viewer to stare up at the Chancellor, thus showing the position of power as Anakin is slowly taken over by the dark side. (the framing is also clever as it keeps the characters positions in the same place even when the scene changes so you are not suddenly disorientated and noticing an obvious change of position in the frame)
Five – We are switched back to scene three where Anakin looks up, gasping, “I will do whatever you ask.”
Six – This is the scene famous throughout the StarWars industry where Darth Sidious stares at Anakin with his non blinking reptilian eyes and says, “Goooood!” There is something so creepy about it, spine tingling and the viewer is torn apart of what is happening. Though of course there was an inevitability about it from the moment we first saw Anakin as the innocent, brave youngling.
Seven – A medium close up shows Anakin, “Just help me save Padamé’s life, I can’t live without her!”He hangs his head bent double.
Eight – Switched to the low angle staring up at Darth Sidious but this time he is closer to the frame! Perhaps because Anakin’s head only partly fills the frame.
Nine – Then back to Anakin who slowly slides off the chair and collapses onto his knees not breaking eye contact with the Chancellor. He recedes down the frame, “I pledge myself.” Every frame and movement in this increases the level of power between the two.
Ten- Another low angle “Goood.”
Eleven – The “Good,’ is repeated and Anakin recoils away twisted and torn up by the dark side consuming him.
Twelve – The shot changes to a wide shot and we see Anakin kneeling at the Chancellor’s feet. Some have likened this to him selling his soul to the devil.
Thirteen – It seems apt that shot thirteen is the one in which he is fully taken over by the dark side and the low angle shot of Darth Sidious launches into his speech of evil, “THE FORCE is stroong with you.” Personally this bit is rather creepy and could be determined in a different way… Now Anakin is no longer in this frame and we see he is fully taken over.
Fourteen – Anakin looks up. In his eyes you can see the evil has taken over.
Fifteen – Darth Sidious stares down at Anakin “From now on you will be known as Darth Vader.
Sixteen – Now when Anakin is shown the music changes to the Imperial March associated with Darth Vader. “Thank you, my master.” In this frame the lighting has changed, before parts of his face and head were clouded in dark but now half his face is black with shadows and half of his face is light. Perhaps this shows the battle going on and is a sign of how he is not all evil which is proven when he becomes good and sacrifices himself to save his son in Episode VI.
Seventeen – A wide angle shot of the two, “Rise,” Darth Sidious walks across the room while Anakin stands his body shrouded in black.
I roped my musician sister Amber in who is giving me tuition in analysing music in films.
“It begins with the Imperial March playing on lower dark notes at a much slower tempo to draw out the suspense and Anakin’s disbelief. This is accompanied by a rumble of thunder. It’s all very low and minor to give dark feeling generating a black atmosphere without overpowering the scene. It’s a sign of the dark side creeping over him rising in power. A screeching music echoes in the background with more instruments joining in. A motif is passed around the orchestra. The music gains in volume building up. As he says Darth Vader, the main theme of the Imperial March begins. The music fades away in a high pitch eerie echo.”